Pruning the market to shrug off stock falls. By Janine Starks.

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During a friendly chit-chat someone told me they'd lost two Range Rovers over summer.

Hells bells, I thought, bet your wife is mad, thinking he'd written them off. But no, it was their investment portfolio weaving all over the road, not his driving.

The portfolio had dropped in value to the tune of a couple of Rangies and our discussion allowed a bit of hot air to be vented from the exhaust pipe to cope with the situation.

It will bring on great gwuffs of laughter from many, being one of those first-world problems discussed in a wine bar.

Humour aside, it also gets you thinking about how vividly we visualise losses. No matter how much stomach you think you've got, when Vogues, Hiluxes and Yarises are flicked off the top off your portfolio into thin air, it's pretty hard to take.

If a $200,000 portfolio loses 10 per cent, there goes a Suzuki Swift. There are plenty of retirees and people in KiwiSaver with a nest egg of that size so it's not just an issue for those who are flush.

The New Zealand index has largely recovered last year's losses, but for those with growth portfolios and more international exposure, the suffering hasn't ended yet. The bounce is only partial.

Often in a relationship, two people have different risk appetites and one starts dishing out the "I-told-you-so" speech during market falls. Tension rises and we question our decision to hold assets that fluctuate in value.

So how do you stay sane when the markets go against you?

Here's how to maintain perspective.

Honey I shrunk the loss: Most of your portfolio isn't needed for years to come. Even a 70-year-old has to spread money over 20 years. The only losses being crystallised are from regular withdrawals you live off. The rest of it is a paper loss with time to recover. For most retirees, at least three-quarters of their money won't be touched in the next five years.

International markets have been wobblier than New Zealand's.

Shrunk by dividends and interest. Even when share and bond values fall, they still produce dividends and interest. If you're a retiree taking withdrawals, some of this is coming from the portfolio's income stream.

This buffers the level of losses being crystallised.

The time machine: Wind back one year. What value was the portfolio? Find that point on the time-line that equals today's value. Imagine the set-back in terms of time, not money.

Separate the top slice: There are layers to a cake and what you've put in sits on the base. Everything else that happens is about the top slice. Eventually everyone becomes a long-term investor and losses are simply reduced gains from the top layer. You won't get to this position without hanging in there.

Visualise gains: Convert all the gains your portfolio has ever made into a currency that means something to you. It might be cars, your salary, a bicycle or a comparison to the value of your home. Talk about how much you are still up over the long-term to get perspective.

Size matters. Back when you had $20,000 invested it didn't induce much excitement or flinching. Now you're at $200,000 or $2 million, everything magnifies. Losses will hurt, but the gains start becoming unbelievable once you have some mass.

Same-same but more transparent. For those with several million and beyond, suffering losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over a few months, weeks or days can feel shocking. You're high net-worth, had your own business or property interests, but had no transparency over your day-to-day valuation. A portfolio now feels very jumpy, but rest assured you've been drinking coffee in your office oblivious to the same movements. It's the transparency that is scary.

Imagine each dollar individually. Every dollar still has a percentage of its value left and is waiting for a recovery. Don't imagine whole dollars going up in smoke. This is about all the shrubs in the garden getting clipped and waiting for spring, not whole plants being ripped out.

Never bank last year's returns. Keep those in a separate pot in your head to buffer the emotions when losses happen. When you discuss your portfolio size, knock off last year's returns and assume they're not yours yet.

Accumulators invest more: As much as the current losses hurt, pull out all the stops to add further lump-sums. It's a great chance for new money to get a quick start on the swing back up.

MARKETS' WORST DROP IN THE LAST YEAR

NZX50 - 13 per cent

ASX200 - 15 per cent

FTSE100 - 17 per cent

Eurostoxx 50 - 18 per cent

S&P500 - 20 per cent

Nikkei 225 - 22 per cent

CURRENT FALL FROM HIGH POINT

NZX50 -  1 per cent

ASX200 - 3.6  per cent

FTSE100 - 9.5 per cent

Eurostoxx 50 - 8 per cent

S&P500 - 5 per cent

Nikkei 225 - 12 per cent